A VERY OLD MAN WITH ENORMOUS WINGS at Theater aan het Spui in The Hague

Some years ago, one Christmas, I was visiting a German friend who lived near Munich. It was a family affair, his not mine. My friend and I, and some others of our age were in a room downstairs overlooking the snow covered forest with our beers and enjoying the festive gemütlichkeit.

My friend’s mother came in with some cake and, hiding behind her dirndl, was her grand-daughter, my friend’s niece, aged about four. The little girl was looking at us all very intently and finally tugged at her grandmother’s skirt and whispered, “Wo ist der Engel?” (where is the angel?) The puzzled woman turned to the child, asking what she meant. The girl said she had heard the grownups saying there was ein Engel  downstairs and she wanted to see it. Her grandmother realised what had happened. The child had heard them saying there was ein Engländer downstairs – me – and misunderstood.

An easy mistake to make. Angels are everywhere, not just atop your yuletide tree. You can buy little light-up ones to stand on your sideboard to look over you and keep you safe. We are all keen to see angels, and not just at Christmas. This is the basic premise of A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings produced by the Dublin-based Collapsing Horse company.

A young couple with a sick baby meet an old man with . . . err . . . enormous wings and the infant immediately recovers, therefore establishing, QED, that the old man must be an angel. The villagers flock to see him in his chicken shack home and the young couple make a fortune selling angel feathers and other merchandising.

This remarkable story, true we were assured, was told to us by another young couple, both slightly nerdy – he more nerdy than her. They made a wonderful pair, she, Karen McCartney, very assertive and he, Manus Halligan, excruciatingly shy and with stooping body language denoting complete insecurity.

The two of them proceeded to tell the story aided by small model figures and a nice little painted cardboard backdrop on the table. They were neither of them really sure what they were doing and constantly whispering out of the corner of their mouths or giving each other questioning looks. It was a bit like The Play That Goes Wrong but much better, much less contrived. I must say, in case you think me unkind, that this amateurishness was all part of the show, and it worked brilliantly.

Based on a short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and adapted and directed by Dan Colley, Ms McCartney took us through the events as they unfolded while Mr Halligan offered rather ineffectual support – except for his chicken impersonation which was worth the price of the ticket alone, but sadly he had no lines as such. Both were aided by a shelf-full of props, a large fan to blow the feathers around and, best of all, a couple of tiny video cameras which showed us the little figures close up – and often Mr Halligan’s bewildered face. The images were projected onto a large screen at the back.

This was really enjoyable, intimate theatre and all the better for being Irish – if they believe in leprechauns, sure they can believe in angels, so they can. Billed as being suitable for all ages from eight to eighty A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings will, I am sure, instill in many of the younger members of the audience a love of theatre which will hopefully stay with them for ever. I hate to use the word charming, but it was. Charming, funny, endearing and very nicely done. Loved it.    Michael Hasted   28th January 2023

Collapsing Horse’s A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings was presented by STET, The English Theatre